Monthly Archives: January 2007

Quest for Truth

The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

I mean, The Thin Blue Line is very influenced by noir. It is, in its essence, a noir-like story… if you asked me, “What are the main ingredients of noir?”, I’d say that it’s not the moody lighting, it’s not the canted Dutch angles. To me it’s the feeling of inexorability, almost the form of Greek tragedy, the feeling that things inexorably move towards some disaster without the ability of anyone involved to change the outcome, to do otherwise.

Errol Morris, interviewed by Tom Ryan for Senses of Cinema

Errol Morris stumbled into the subject of his best documentary, The Thin Blue Line. In 1985 he was researching a documentary about Dr James Grigson, a psychiatrist notorious for giving testimony in court cases that led to death sentences for the accused. The research included speaking to those who had been the subject of Grigson’s testimony, and one of the prisoners he spoke to was Randall Adams, then into his seventh year of imprisonment after being sentenced to death for the 1976 shooting of police officer Robert Wood in Dallas. Adams’ death sentence had by that time been commuted, but he was still in jail and protesting his innocence. Morris started looking into the case and quickly became convinced that Adams was indeed innocent. More than that, it became very clear who had killed Robert Wood. Morris abandoned his original project and turned his efforts to building the case for Adams’ innocence. The resulting film was The Thin Blue Line, still the definitive example of an investigative documentary. The film would be important if only for its impact on that case. Yet it’s much more interesting than a simple exploration of a particular crime and its consequences; it is a triumph of execution that has been enormously influential on both documentaries and fiction films since.

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Trumping Kane

As an interesting little side-note to my piece on Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, Morris’ website has a clip (here) from an interview he did with Donald Trump, focusing on Citizen Kane.

I don’t have much time for Trump, but he is pretty articulate in commenting on the movie, although I don’t know if “get yourself a different woman” is the message I’d take from the film. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear the comments of a modern-day William Randolph Hearst on the movie. It’s a shame that Morris’ interview is squirrelled away on the web and largely unseen, but Trump’s “you’re fired” shenanigans are on TV.

(My own main piece on Kane is here.)

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They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara

One of the holy grails of special effects for a few years now has been the fully realistic all-digital animated human. Computer animated human characters have been passed off as real for fleeting shots, most often to replace stunt people, but nobody has ever given one any kind of serious acting to do. Yet people have been assuming it was just around the corner for years, with the general assumption being that someone would use digital technology to try to bring back a deceased star (existing gestures in this direction, like Marlon Brando in Superman Returns, have always used manipulated footage of the original actor).

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Cold Feet

Happy Feet (George Miller, 2006)

Happy Feet is a computer animated film about a free-spirited penguin, Mumble, who dances when all around him only sing. Watching it, I felt a sense of disconnection from my fellow filmgoers that matched that of its protagonist. This was a feel good dancing penguin movie, right? One which has been met by widespread audience and critical acclaim. One which, the ads insist, has “audiences floating out of the cinema on feel good clouds.” So what was the Happy Feet I saw? The film I saw was obviously well-intentioned, but it was poorly made, lamentably unmusical, and, well… depressing.

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Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)

Original French Title: Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes

Note: This article includes some moderate spoilers.

As a French-made noir by an American-born writer-director, Jules Dassin’s Rififi is an example of the film noir movement coming full circle. The genre had been kicked off, in part, by the arrival in Hollywood of directors fleeing wartime Germany, such as Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Billy Wilder. Just a few years later, though, the flow of talent had been reversed. American-born Jules Dassin was blacklisted in the anti-communist hysteria of the early fifties, and was forced first to Britain and then France in the search for work. Rififi, his first French film, folds a Gallic sensibility back into the American / German generic hybrid of noir: it anticipates the French obsession with gangster pictures that emerged a few years later in New Wave films such as Godard’s Bande à part / Band of Outsiders. The result is a fascinating blend, and a definitive example of a classic film emerging from enormously difficult personal circumstances.

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What I Want for Christmas Next Year

In a not very timely post, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the films that I wish were available on DVD here in Australia but aren’t, and express the (belated) Christmas wish that we might see these before next year.

Generally I think that we’re actually pretty well off in this country, even given the lesser release schedules we get compared to the US. There are a couple of animation collections that I’m pretty much resigned to never seeing (further waves of Disney Treasures, for example), but generally it seems most of the things we want we eventually get. This is particularly the case with smaller distributors (notably Madman) getting up more steam and increasingly filling the niche that outfits like Criterion do in the US. (In fact, I watched their version of Rififi the other day, and my hunch is it is a port of the Criterion version).

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